No Pay TV But Broadband On The Way For Canberra

Despite missing out on the Pay TV rollout, Canberra will have access to multimedia providers through a communications network rollout expected to be finalised within 18 months.

New telecommunications player TransACT Communications, an initiative started four years ago out of the ACTEW (ACT Electricity and Water) Corporation, will deploy an open network broadband connection offering telephony, video and high stream Internet services.

Robin Eckermann, chief architect for TransACT Communications, said: "2.7 million Australians have access to Pay TV, but 4.3 million have no true broadband solution on the horizon; an open network is fundamentally the only sensible solution Australia can afford. We can't afford to have two companies implementing cable infrastructure; competition doesn't work in the last mile of network access."

The company is looking to sign up an infinite number of Internet service providers (ISPs) and Pay TV operators as the company does not plan to compete with its third-party distributors.

The company raised $150 million to underpin the rollout, with two-thirds in equity and one-third in debt. Eckermann said the ACT government's exposure to the venture is under $30 million. Investors include TGV from Hong Kong, AGL, Marconi, ACTEW and a small group of local investors.

Eckermann confirmed there has been keen interest from both ends of the pipe with a number of ISPs coming on board, including AsiaOnline; major commercial PayTV operators and boutique operators, and a subsidiary of Civic Video which will be offering video on demand.

The pipe will be rented directly to the customer who will then buy the content and services from third-party service providers.

Eckermann said solutions would be provided to companies and government, but primarily the company would focus on small to medium businesses and consumers.

A six-month technical pilot was carried out in the suburb of Aranda during the first half of 1999, utilising a Newbridge solution. Due to an evolution of requirements, Eckermann said the network will now be using Unisphere's ERX-1400 edge routing switch, which is still in the testing phase.

Eckermann said the company is currently in discussions with other states and expects to make announcements about future ventures within the next six months.

"It is not efficient to duplicate systems so we won't rush into areas with cable already, we would be looking at the larger regional centres."

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